Employee Engagement

Figuring out how to motivate employees is no easy challenge. Business has typically equated motivation with money (the carrot and stick approach), and it seems this formula is wrong!

Take a look at Dan Pink’s popular 18 minute internet video from the TED conference in Oxford. His science of motivation makes a case for how business has it all wrong when it comes to incentives. I found it fascinating, intuitive and congruent with what I have experienced for many years as an executive coach. What really motivates talented, smart workers are factors including autonomy, mastery, and purpose (not more money). Pink cites over four decades of scientific studies enlightening us that the carrot and stick approach can actually significantly reduce the ability of workers to produce creative solutions to problems. His formula for work satisfaction and motivation is to connect our human need to direct our lives, to learn and create and to improve our world and ourselves.

What motivates us (once our basic survival needs are met) is the ability to grow and realize our fullest potential. Wise leaders create workplace environments and cultures that support autonomy, creativity and bringing the best of their human talent to meet company goals. Google reports that 50% of their successful products originate from employee’s 20% “innovation time”—Google employees devote 20% of their work time (one day), creatively innovating on projects of their choosing.

Additionally, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi helps us comprehend motivation with his human state of “flow” theory. Flow is a human state of high engagement and satisfaction that occurs when we bring the best of ourselves forward to meet a challenging task or goal. If an employee has a high degree of skill and ability to do something with low challenge, they are typically apathetic or bored. Conversely, if an employee is given a highly challenging task or role with little skill, ability or talent to succeed-they will likely be in a state of anxiety, worry or stress. Neither is conducive to performance.

Flow is what happens when we have a high degree of challenge (with a clear goal) while we also have a high capability of skills, experience and talent to succeed with that goal. Akin to an athlete being in the “zone”, being in flow requires three conditions: 1) an activity with a clear set of goals, 2) the confidence that one is capable of doing the task at hand and 3) clear and immediate feedback.

Given all this theory, here are my coaching tips for how to motivate your employees:

  • Provide your people clear goals and expectations. Identify what success looks like. Make sure that before assigning tasks and roles that you are reasonably confident the individual has both the competence and the commitment to succeed. Then keep providing ongoing clear feedback. Feedback should be specific to behavior not the person or their intentions.
  • Identify your employee’s natural gifts and talents. For the price of a book, you can utilize the Strength finder 2.0 assessment. This easy to use and inexpensive internet based tool can help participants identify their top 5 strengths. Also, ask your employees how they think they can bring their best potential to the needs of the business?
  • Give people a sense of purpose. Identify and communicate how their job matters to larger organizational or business goals. People want to be a part of something that is bigger than they are. Help them identify their sense of “purpose” with the work they do.
  • Delegate more and give competent committed workers autonomy. People want to have control over their work. I have never met a client who enjoyed being micromanaged! When I hear talent looking for an exit strategy, its often due to their feeling they have no autonomy in the job or their talents and strengths are being underutilized
  • Offer employees continuing educational training opportunities. Mastery motivates! People want to get better at what they do. And the good news is once they do, they will perform at a higher level for your business. It’s a win win.
  • Praise and promote. Say thank you, recognize good work and catch people doing something well. Promote from within. Its sound strategy. Dedicated employees who have already proved their value deserve more autonomy and having a culture of promoting from within motivates other employees.

Increasing Employee Engagement

I am concerned about the lack of engagement that I perceive from many of my clients who work for mid to large sized organizations (by the way non profits aren’t immune). From my vantage, it seems that a disturbing large number of workers these days feel “trapped” by this recession and are desperately looking for an “exit” strategy.

Few organizations can afford a mass exodus of talent. Yet here is a brief list of common complaints I hear daily as a coach: resentment about being micromanaged by a “toxic” boss, feeling under-appreciated and/or undervalued, weighted down by too much work, too few resources, a lack of autonomy and a mountain of processes/minutia that suck the life out of them!

Employee engagement matters greatly to performance and organizational success. One study by the Corporate Leadership Council found an increase in employee engagement can generate an increase of 20% in performance and an 87% reduction in employees’ probability of departure. The same study looked at the top drivers to employee engagement and determined the most important is a connection between the employees’ job and organizational strategy and an understanding (by the employee) of how important their job is to organizational success. Other top drivers were manager characteristics (as well as cultural traits) chiefly, good internal communication, a reputation of integrity, and a culture of innovation.

Most workers leave bad bosses not “bad” companies. Workers who like their boss and who feel their boss cares about them are more productive and less likely to fly the coop. We go the extra mile for bosses who we feel appreciate us and demonstrate respect for us.

My coach’s tips for increasing employee engagement:

  • Conduct an employee survey. Take the temperature of the organization and determine how they feel about morale, culture and management. Get input about what they would change. One suggested survey resource– the Gallup 12 question engagement survey.
  • Assess the strengths and career aspirations of your people. Ask them what they do best—what are they doing when they are in the “zone” or in flow. Find out how they think they can best contribute to the team or business. Help design their day-to-day work to maximize their potential to deliver their best.
  • Assess whether or not your processes/systems are helping or hindering your people’s success and performance. Ask them what they would change and how they would change it. Often manager’s get too far from the action to know what is working or not from the vantage of those on the front lines. Ask them!
  • Delegate and “coach” vs. micromanage. No one likes having someone look over his or her shoulder all day! Talented, committed people want (and deserve) autonomy and decision making authority. If they aren’t growing, improving and allowed to captain some of their own ship, odds are they will bail as soon as they have an opportunity.
  • Appreciate and recognize your people when they deliver for you. Reinforce what you want done again. Call them, send an email or better yet, go shake their hand, look them in the eye and say thank you. Sadly, most American workers report very low levels of workplace recognition (one Gallup survey reported 60% of workers saying they receive no praise or recognition in their workplaces!) If the only time your workers hear from you is when they do something wrong—you qualify as a bad boss.
  • Set clear goals and expectations. Define what success looks like when delegating projects.
  • Give and receive constructive specific feedback. Offer helpful feedback regularly. Most people want to know how they are doing and if they are behaving in a way that is problematic for the business or coworkers. This gives them an opportunity to change and improve. In turn, bosses need to go out of their way to create safe conditions for their people to give them reciprocal feedback (this means the boss should NOT get reactive or defensive when they do!). Ask your people what they want more of or less of from you.
  • Involve your people in creating a culture of innovation. Facilitate brain storming sessions and opportunities for them to contribute to improved ways of delivering for customers/clients.

Team Development

Simply throwing people together and asking them to operate as a team doesn’t guarantee success. There is a difference between a group of people who work together and those who work effectively as a team. A big difference. High-performing teams, though rare, are a tremendous competitive advantage. Developing them is frequently cited as the No. 1 challenge of leaders.

As an organizational consultant, I am often asked to help teams that are “stuck” or not meeting their potential. I identify team challenges and opportunities and help them increase collaboration and performance. While there are many factors that affect team performance, these are some that guide my work with teams:

  • Trust. This is critical to all great teams (and organizations). Team synergy, innovation, risk-taking and constructive challenge can’t happen without trust. It allows highly driven individuals to embrace difference and conflict and to challenge the status quo in a positive, powerful way. Without trust, teams get bogged down trying to deal with dysfunctional behaviors, including low team “EQ,” or emotional intelligence, “misrepresentations” and personal egos, insecurities and agendas. People who don’t feel safe will naturally hold back questions, opinions and ideas — any of which could be vital to the team’s success.
  • Clarity in purpose, goals/objectives, roles, responsibilities and expectations. Members of high-performing teams are clear about their target — what they are working together to achieve and their individual responsibilities to help the team get there. Without clarity and purpose people are reluctant to genuinely engage, and become complacent. Most professionals are energized by compelling and challenging goals. If your team has no sense of urgency, odds are it isn’t functioning at a high level.

Frustrated teams often include those who “don’t see the point” or can’t agree “who is on first and who is on second,” which often leads to ugly turf wars. This is usually the result of unclear task and role responsibility. Team leaders need to make sure everyone is clear about their responsibility in achieving the goal and why their contribution is important.

  • The necessary skills/ resources/protection to meet objectives. Teams that face large skill gaps or resource requirements relative to their objectives are doomed to fail. Wise team leaders selectively fit members into appropriate roles based on the individual’s skills, experience, motivation and talent.

To be successful, most workplace teams require a combination of leadership, technical, interpersonal, problem-solving, decisionmaking and teamwork skills. Team leaders need to support the resource needs of the team, leveraging individual skills and providing the protection needed for team success.

  • Healthy conflict. Conflict can result in creativity, learning and better solutions to today’s complex and ever-changing workplace problems. High-performing teams foster an environment that supports open, healthy debate around ideas and different perspectives. In these teams, disagreements are not suppressed, reasons are carefully examined, members feel safe to speak their truth and give each other constructive feedback.

In contrast, dysfunctional teams are hindered by indirect, disguised and guarded discussions. In these teams, conflict is either avoided (usually due to fear of retaliation or hurting others feelings) or dealt with destructively (hostility, passive aggression, finger pointing, shooting the messenger or scapegoating). No one enjoys being a part of this game.

  • Clear decision-making. High-performing teams are clear about how and when decisions will be made and who has the authority to make them. In these teams, members believe their opinion is valued — and that it has the potential to affect the decision under consideration. In contrast, members of dysfunctional teams often leave team meetings without anyone considering their ideas or unclear if a decision was made.
  • Accountability. In high-performing teams, members hold each other accountable and share the rewards of victory and pain of defeat. Individual expectations and commitments to support team objectives are clear and realistic. These teams focus on and measure performance and establish feedback mechanisms that clearly identify achievements and shortfalls.

In dysfunctional teams, mediocrity or nonperformance is tolerated and ultimately establishes itself as the norm. Different “rules” apply to different members. This lack of accountability frustrates performers and creates a team environment of inequity and disappointment. Sadly, many workplace teams place a value on harmony over truth, accountability and what is best for the business — and expend great effort and resources to avoid difficult challenges.

  • Finding ways to work better together. The best teams regularly examine their working process. They evaluate and renegotiate what needs to improve. They “debrief” after projects to identify what went well and what could be improved.

Reward and recognize. Great teams take time to celebrate and share in their achievements and successes.  I offer coaching (anywhere in the world) and team facilitation help:  mmoriarty@pathtochange.com or 360 682 5807.

Leadership Skill to Keep Talented Employees

In a recent survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, respondents placed talent acquisition/development at the top of the list of the primary challenges their organization is facing. Sixty-five percent of those leaders surveyed predict a major talent crisis over the next five years.

The survey results highlight the need for organizations to adopt new strategies and implement fundamental cultural changes to help address the looming talent crisis.

One effective method is to develop a coaching culture to cultivate, retain and grow existing talent.

Long-term, single-company loyalty and tenure are increasingly rare. Today’s most talented employees want (and need) an environment that supports and challenges them to grow and develop. Changing how we lead is an important part of this answer.

The days of being able to lead successfully with a top-down autocratic “edict” are gone. High performers in today’s work force simply won’t put up with it.

While changing an organization’s culture is never easy, it can be done. Success requires senior level sponsorship, significant resource deployment and organizationwide training (coaching skills are not innate).

A method to inspire, retain and develop today’s work force is introducing or expanding an organizationwide coaching culture. Coaching, by its nature, supports collaboration and continuous improvement. The focus of coaching is on changing behaviors for systemic impact on the success of the entire organization. Again, we can draw from a sports analogy — if only the defensive squad plays well (and not the offense or special teams), rarely will the team win. Likewise in organizations, the entire system has to work together to achieve its goals to be successful. Internal departments in companies are intricately interdependent on each other. Today’s cutting-edge managers understand that an effective coaching culture is ultimately determined by the collective performance of all of the parts.

Shifting an organization from a traditional “management down” culture to a collaborative, coaching culture can be difficult. Challenges often encountered include:

  • Individual personalities (i.e., defensiveness or “I only know how to ‘boss’ “).
  • Natural resistance to change (old dogs resisting new tricks).
  • Internal politics and history.
  • Lack of required senior level commitment and effective “sponsorship.”

A successful coaching culture needs to include:

  • Senior level sponsorship (those with the power to sanction change). This sponsorship will include providing clear vision, goals, objectives and expectations.
  • Effective feedback systems (measurement against benchmarks, providing accountability, acknowledgement and rewards).
  • Training programs to develop the coaching skills of internal managers and leaders.
  • An environment that rewards taking reasonable risks, including trying new behaviors and developing skills.

Remember, a shift to a coaching culture does not mean that leaders relinquish authority, responsibility or ultimate accountability. In contrast, a truly effective coaching culture is defined by (and is generally a result of) top management leadership managing through collaboration and effective coaching techniques.

Effective coaching has been identified as a core competency for today’s managers.

Today’s successful organizations understand the value and potential of this leadership style and continue to expand their own coaching programs and skills.

Senior leaders in organizations making cultural shifts can get help from a number of resources: trainings, seminars, and external professional resources. These provide expertise in managing change (including what it takes to be an effective sponsor) and proven tools to build or strengthen existing coaching skills within the organization.

I coach clients anywhere in the world via Skype.  I can help you find, keep and grow talent for your business.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com  You don’t have to do it alone.

Engaged Workers Perform

WORKERS WHO ARE eager to come into work each day are “engaged”– fully involved in what they do at work and enthusiastic about their contribution and workplace environment.

Disengaged workers are the opposite — clock-watchers waiting for their workday to end (and put them out of their misery) or those who are physically and mentally exhausted by their jobs. Signs of disengagement include absenteeism, low morale, “zombies” going through their day avoiding eye contact and “checked out” workers (think surfing the Internet vs. working).

Sadly, surveys indicate fewer than one in three employees is “engaged” at work. Studies confirm that disengaged workers lead to low productivity and high employee turnover. One study, from The Hay Group, revealed that offices with engaged employees are up to 43 percent more productive.

Creating a workplace culture that supports engagement is important.

Here are several key factors:

The worker’s personality, talent and skills match the job. If employees aren’t a good fit in a position, they “check out.” Bored workers are likely overqualified and not given opportunities to work to their strengths and potential. Job-hoppers frequently report to me they are leaving because they are “underutilized” or aren’t given enough responsibility. Personality matters — an extroverted creative individual will likely disengage if the bulk of the time on the job is spent on mundane, menial tasks.

People believe their job matters. Leaders need to make it clear to their people how what they do contributes to the big picture. Most employees are inspired knowing how they are positively affecting the quality of the company’s products or services. Help them “get” how their daily output/tasks/responsibilities matter. Engaged employees feel valued.

People have clear but reasonable expectations. Engaged employees know what success looks like in their job. They are challenged but not overwhelmed by what they are being asked to do on a daily basis. Challenge should energize and inspire workers, not lead to exhaustion, stress, illness or burnout. As a coach, I see a disturbing trend of more and more people suffering from job stress. Many are exhausted (all trying to do more with less) — it’s taking a toll. These people are crying out for leadership and help. Most are angry, tired and disengaged. They need leaders who can help them sort out priorities, provide necessary support/resources and remove obstacles to success. Wise leaders help their people work smarter — not harder.

People are given feedback and growth opportunities. We all want to know how we are measuring up. Learning and improvement happen with feedback. Unfortunately most bosses aren’t giving enough of it to satisfy their employees. It’s important for workers to grow and develop and understand next steps to moving beyond their current job responsibilities (and pay scale).

What to do to increase engagement?

  • Monitor burnout and exhaustion. Your people working all hours of the day and night isn’t a good thing.
  • Create a company culture where people want to come to work. Encourage social interactions at work (dare I say even fun!), reasonable work life balance and opportunities for people to grow and advance in their careers. Engage people’s hearts and minds with inspiring visions — help them imagine and achieve the possibilities.
  • Help employees identify their personal strengths and weaknesses (or areas for improvement) and coach/support them in finding alignment at work.
  • Give responsibility. Most people like having initiatives or projects that they can run with. Most will prove they are capable (and will come into work with a new pep in their step because they finally have ownership of something).
  • Talk to employees about the daily nature of their work and what might be getting in their way of engagement. Fix broken systems or processes that are exhausting or frustrating your people.

Educate, train and coach company leaders about the importance of engagement and how to increase it.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com